In the future, the companies that thrive against competitors will be those that embrace their empowered customers and become obsessed with delivering a unique, tailored brand experience — this is what characterizes the emerging era of the customer.

We already see how customers hold power over the brands they choose, and use social technologies to influence buying choices and value perceptions.

We are entering a new era that demands a new partnership between IT and marketing.

Organisations need this partnership because firms must master not just the data, but also the flow of that data, pushing actionable intelligence to all edges of the organisation.

By collaborating to collect, analyze, and distribute customer data, marketing and IT enable nimble and smart customer-facing programs, matching rapidly shifting customer needs and delivering near-instant customization based on deep knowledge of customers and their habits.

Unfortunately, differences in near-term and long-term focus too often lead to rifts between IT and marketing.

Where chief marketing officers (CMOs) typically focus on increasing revenue in the near term, CIOs more often take the long view, often spanning years, to ensure that IT is building a sustainable technology environment to support ongoing growth.

To this point, our conversations with CIOs reveal that most IT professionals perceive marketing as always in a hurry to get things done without concern for governance.

Similarly, it's clear from talking with CMOs that marketing has its share of misperceptions about IT.

Many marketers see IT as the department of No, that doesn't understand the need for speed.

Only marketing and IT together have the skills and the capacity to help companies become customer-obsessed, master the flow of customer data (see figure), and thrive in the coming age of the customer.

CIOs need to develop a trusted partnership with marketing that will support the customer data flow.

CIOs should focus on people and process first in setting up a successful marketing partnership and tackle the big technology challenges only after a solid foundation of trust is established.

For example, among the many recommendations to improve the relationship between IT and marketing, Forrester suggests CIOs should:

1. Staff IT for success with marketing
IT staff have little exposure to marketing as a discipline. This makes it difficult for IT to understand marketing's needs and work alongside them without appearing ignorant.

To overcome this challenge, CIOs must hire staff with marketing expertise to work alongside the marketing team — bring a marketing person into the IT team to oversee the customer data flow and lead the marketing technology team.

Successful IT and marketing partnerships include a dedicated marketing technology team in IT.

In one company we spoke with, the CMO reviews all of the new hires on the IT marketing technology team and sits on the interview panel for senior appointments.

Frequently this change is mirrored in marketing, with the CMO hiring a senior marketing technology leader to work alongside IT and represent the marketing perspective.

2. Use Agile processes to deliver at the speed of the customer
Agility is the essential ingredient in any successful marketing partnership. To pull it off requires IT to develop a formal Agile or informal Agile-like approach, with a focus on fast prototyping.

One CIO highlighted in our research pushes IT toward platform-as-a-service and heavily adopting software-as-a-service as a way to drive more agility — "it's too slow when you try to do everything yourself in IT," they say. 

At the same time, this same team is moving to a formal Agile process for application development.

Another CIO gets the IT consulting/architecture team involved early in projects — "this team works with the marketing unit in their beginning stages of initiatives and primes the rest of IT in advance, describing new initiatives and how they will fit within current architecture," they tell us.

3. Focus early technology initiatives around customer information to step-change the value delivered
Most marketers we interviewed agreed that the first hurdle to jump with the help of IT is to make sure that CRM systems deliver business value.

As one of the CMOs we interviewed told us, "The first thing we did was move all of the call centers to a single vendor and move the CRM tool to the cloud, which, for the first time, gives us a true 360-degree view of the customer to drive our growth plans."

We expect the close partnership between IT and marketing will require future CIOs and CMOs to develop hybrid marketing and IT leadership skills, with specialists in their primary field who are versed in how to operate in the other field.

This requires a full understanding of the role they play in shaping how the company interacts with customers, the line between ideas and execution, and how the firm ultimately generates more value for customers through mastery of the customer data flow.

And the future may be closer than you think — one CIO we interviewed had previously been the CMO and had already traded places with the CIO.

Nigel Fenwick is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He will be delivering a keynote speech at Forrester's CIO-CMO Forum on September 22, in Boston, MA.

Pic: Roland cc2.0